Similar to her mother, Susie Meredith has high ambition. Unlike Lora, Susie’s ambition lies in her desire to embody a more mature self. Realistically Susie’s ambition parlays her need for Lora’s motherly instincts. Unfortunately, Susie becomes so independent to Lora due to Lora’s own ambition of stardom. Yet just like her mother, Susie’s attire revolves around her desire and ambition to imitate something she’s not. Susie’s clothing reflects her ideal of Lora as a mother. In turn Susie’s dress personifies someone much older and not a youthful teenage girl.
Considering Lora’s self-consumed identity as an actress, Susie becomes entrenched by having a motherly identity. Susie is “Lora’s Electoral understudy” taking on the role of her mother through her attire (Fischer, 19). In the second part of the film, contention runs high between Lora and Susie. Lora’s success bothers Susie, as she feels she lost a mother. The audience finally witnesses the young Susie while she comments on the opening of Lora’s play. Susie quips to Annie, “I’m glad the openings over. Now I hope mother will have some time for me before my graduation”; Susie searches for any bit of motherly love from Lora. The longing that Susie craves for a motherly figure takes evidence in her style.
Through the past ten years Lora becomes beyond glamorous and overtly sexual. However her young daughter displays the complete opposite ideal. Susie wears a rather mature dress. A dress filled with a wedding white color. Little baby blue flowers encapsulate the pure white dress. Along the neckline a baby blue mixed with pastel color adorns Susie’s shoulders. Susie extremely covered trying to embody a womanly frame. Along those lines, the dress in a wedding dress style, puffs out past the waist. The style suggests Susie’s need for someone to love her and her wanting to grow up. Susie’s hair pulled back creating a more mature look on the innocent face. The whole costume opposes Lora’s ball gown. A switch in roles between mother and daughter are presented from the clothing. Susie’s dress signals an identity of a more reserved, older nature. A stark contrast from Lora’s pronounced and lavish sparkling ball gown. The way Susie presents herself credits her longing for a motherly figure, thus she takes on the role as mother; due to Lora’s own ambition of stardom completely encapsulating her life.
Susie’s aura always comes back to a wedding like feel. The femininity shows in the similar yet different style of Lora. Lora and Steve’s reunion causes Susie’s ambition of displaying a more mature identity to become exposed. When Susie’s graduation party takes place her dress yet again hints towards a wedding dress. The aura demonstrates, a wedding like feel. It appears Susie’s more interested in a love life than Lora. Susie’s dress a little ridiculous for a young woman. The dress a wedding white, shows off the virginal and youthful Susie. However it also proves Susie’s need for a polish look of a more mature style; showing off her youthfulness while still proving her need for a more polished look. A lace jacket covers Susie’s dress representing a veil of a wedding dress. Anything to provide a hint of sexuality is hidden by Susie. Her shoulders and arms covered up veiling her young body frame. Susie tries to mimic Lora’s style by wearing the white gloves. The gloves symbolize Susie’s high society status while also making sure to define herself as Lora’s daughter. As much as Susie tries to emulate Lora, she also sparks hints of distress. Lora’s shoulders completely bare, a much more youthful look than her own daughter. The awkwardness that Susie’s ensemble puts out even worsens by the presence of Lora’s lover, Steve Archer.
When Lora goes out-of-town, Susie develops sexual feelings for Steve. Steve wants to have a parental child relationship between Susie and him. Yet Susie’s misguided ambition to act mature and represent her mother’s immaturity works against a father-daughter relationship. Steve and Susie at dinner displays Susie’s misguided ambition at work. A very adult situation of love and lust becomes apparent through Susie’s choice in clothing. Susie’s clothing choice stands in for her mother’s “romance with Steve” by “investing it with an aura of costume” (Fisher, 18). Trying desperately to substitute for Lora’s desires for Steve; Susie wears her most mature outfit seen in the film. Emulating her mother’s status style Susie has on a white fur coat, a pearl necklace and bracelet set and white gloves. All items Lora tends to wear to look extremely polished. Susie’s outfit is a more mature representation of Lora’s style. As she takes off the fur coat Susie reveals a dress that covers her shoulders, making sure she does not appear too sexy. Interestingly enough the material of white lace that Susie wears consistently is on the dress. The upper half of the dress mostly shown because of Susie and Steve dancing shows the lacey white material that again covers almost all of Susie’s arms. In the moment of the close up of Susie, she asks Steve, “What’s the proper age for people to, want to get married?” The question directly relating to Susie’s dress, and her ambition to present herself as something she is not.
On the basis of dress, Susie for the first time wears a darker color than usual. The bottom half of the dress navy in color, swoops out in a ball gown feel. Yet the dress’s color construction signifies the opposition between Susie’s immaturity and maturity. An opposition of the colors, white and navy, identifies Susie’s imitation of herself and her actual personality. A fight within her, Susie finally tries to open up in the only way she can. Susie’s actions show her trying to present herself similar to Lora, while still keeping her own identity. Even with her affection for Steve, the navy color that is quickly exposed, explains Susie’s desire to be true to her own personality.
Through all of Imitation of Life, ambition makes the characters who they want to be seen as. Yet, their true personalities shine through. Douglas Sirk makes this happen through the costuming choices that first imitation and then represent the characters, Lora and Susie.
Curator: Erin Bowers